In June 1972, David Bowie made his debut as Ziggy Stardust on British TV show Lift Off with Ayshea, but years later a technician accidentally wiped the only known footage of the performance instead of converting it to digital. Audio of the show is available online, but a video archive of the iconic moment was seemingly lost in time.
On Tuesday, however, it was revealed that a fan had recorded Bowie’s appearance with a home video recorder. And if we’re lucky, it may even appear in a BBC documentary next month.
The home video recorder was a precursor to VHS, though the latter ultimately won out for being cheaper, easier, and capable of storing more content. The footage from the June 1972 Ziggy performance was only recently unearthed, and it still remains to be seen whether it will be viewable by the time the documentary debuts next month — or viewable at all.
The tape has degraded over the years and is currently being “baked” with restoration expected to continue until just before the documentary airs, the BBC reported. Tapes from the early 1970s are at risk of what’s called Sticky Shed Syndrome, in which the tape film’s binder is worn down, but possibly recoverable, according to the University of Illinois’ Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP). Baking is routinely used to remedy this issue, which involves baking a tape at a low temperature (from 130 °F 140 °F) for one to eight hours or more, depending on the tape format. Though it’s not a permanent solution—the tape may only last up to a few months before it will absorb moisture.
The original tapes from the TV show were sent by Granada Television to a technician to be digitised. Of the 144, “a handful” had an “X” on them to signify that they were safe to delete since they were duplicates, according to the Telegraph. The technician believed that those marked with an “X” were the ones to be converted to digital, and instead deleted all of the remaining tapes, including the one with Bowie’s first Ziggy debut.
Ayshea Brough, the host of Lift Off with Ayshea, told Record Collector that she didn’t really find out about the scope of the issue until 2014 around Granada’s 50th anniversary, in which the producer told her about the deleted tapes. “He wiped years of my life and performances, and everybody else’s performances,” Brough said. “It’s a terrible thing.”
Record Collector also asked Brough if she believed there were any copies of the tapes still in existence. “I’m hoping so,” she said. “I need to get onto social media and put the word out. Loads of people must’ve taped various shows,” adding that she herself never recorded them because of her busy schedule. “I think there has to be a tape of that David Bowie performance out there somewhere.”